The final stop on the road to the 2022 AFLW Finals saw spots in the top two, and the prizes of a week off and a home Preliminary Final still in play.

For others, it was one last chance to give it everything before what could turn out to be a pretty short off-season.

Here are The Mongrel Reviews of the final round of the AFLW season.

 

GWS (8. 5. 53) DEFEATED GEELONG (5. 5, 35)

REVIEWER – JB EDDY

 

With both teams unable to make finals, this game could have become a bit of a dead rubber, however, Geelong needed to salve some pride after going goalless against St Kilda, and GWS wanted to show that they’re still on the up after only turning up for one quarter against Richmond.

This time, GWS gave more of a four-quarter effort, and proved a little too strong for the Cats.

 

STARTING PUURRFECTLY

The opening bounce was everything Geelong could have wanted McDonald collected the ball from GWS ruck McKinnon’s tap work and found Prespakis running by from behind the contest in the playmaker role she’s done so well with this year.

Oddly enough, Georgie Prespakis was lining up well behind the centre circle, almost like she was going to contest the ruck from a long runup. It could also be that she was expecting Barber to struggle against her taller and much more physical opponent. Cora Staunton set up in the middle too, which seemed an odd choice for the dangerous forward who was still in the running for the goal-kicking award.

Prespakis then pinpointed a handpass to Scheer who kicked long inside 50, Webster gathered and put in a tumbling punt that turned into a googly that Shane Warne would have been proud of. The bounce was a bit lucky, but the Geelong box would have been overjoyed that the first 20 seconds had them ahead on the stat sheet, scoreboard, and with the favour of the luck of the footy.

A similar centre clearance almost had Geelong with two goals in under a minute, but Kate Darby couldn’t quite claim the contested mark in the square. Geelong managed to lock the ball in though, and Darby soon got on the end of another quick kick to the goal line from Scheer and converted from about 15 metres out on a bit of an angle.

GWS then decided that Staunton on Prespakis wasn’t working, and moved her back into the forward line, and were immediately able to shut down Geelong’s quick centre breaks, but Geelong would have been very happy with taking a two-goal lead inside the first couple of minutes.

 

NO SLEEPING ON STAUNTON

Staunton went into the match equal third in the league goal-kicking award, sharing the spot with Katie Brennan who would not play this week due to injury. With the game on a Friday night, Staunton needed to hit the scoreboard heavily to be in with a chance, and set a target for the others to catch. She immediately had an impact for the Giants, taking a strong mark from a quick forward entry and converting from 20 metres out.

I’ve often lamented that we have been denied seeing Staunton at her best. Even as a 40-year-old, playing a sport that she didn’t grow up with, she’s absolutely sublime in her forward craft. The way she approaches the contest, takes contact and still manages to get a shot off at goal is amazing to watch. If she had grown up with the sport like some of her much younger teammates, I can only imagine what sort of hell she’d wreak on defences in every match. Still, that would also deny her legacy in Gaelic football, which would be a shame. She’s still great to watch, no matter what path she took to get on the field.

Staunton was the turning point of this match. Geelong and GWS traded goals for much of the late-first and early-second quarters, with Phoebe McWilliams and Chloe Scheer adding to their tallies between Katie Loynes sticking a great tackle to earn a kick and putting one through for the Giants,

It was late in the second when Staunton once again impacted the game. She’d been harassing, tackling and running hard, but now quite getting reward for effort. A 50 metre penalty against Geelong for Rachel Kearns’ baffling decision to throw the ball to a teammate when GWS’ Casidhe Simmons had received a free kick saw Simmons sprint forward to get to the mark while Geelong’s midfield sauntered back to take up defensive positions.

The quick entry didn’t quite pay off, but the ball went no further than Brid Stack, who ran the ball back in to find Staunton by hand as she was tackled poorly and given an “in the back” decision. Staunton already had the ball in hand, and it was decided that because Stack had already disposed of the ball, it was a kick downfield… by about two metres.

Full credit for Staunton though, she was very unwilling to give that ball up, even though she would be kicking pretty much on the 50 metre arc.

With Staunton’s Gaelic kicking style, everyone (even the commentary team) knew she would run around to her right and then kick long to the goal line, except perhaps Rachel Kearns, who happened to be standing the mark. With the focus on moving around the mark this season, she could be forgiven for playing to the umpire’s play on call, but it looked like she didn’t move a muscle until Staunton was actually past her and about three metres wide of the mark. But between giving the 50 away and being tardy to attempt a spoil, you don’t need to be a lip reader to see how disappointed the coaching staff was.

Staunton kicked long and the ball may have been touched on the line if it were not for McKinnon making herself the wrecking ball in the square that would not be moved from where the ball was dropping. She just kept her hands down, held her position and allowed the ball to fly through, just over her head. A great kick by Staunton, but if McKinnon wants a mad Monday beer or two, Cora might feel the need to shout the first one.

Staunton’s second set the stage for GWS fighting back, as several quick entries just didn’t pay off until a ruck contest in the forward 50 allowed McKinnon to paddle the tap to Alicia Eva, who got a big up and under kick off. With just under ten seconds remaining in the quarter, Georgie Rankin put a hard shepherd on GWS’ Georgia Garnett while the ball was still floating around somewhere beyond the ozone layer, giving Garnett a shot after the siren that brought GWS back into the game with momentum, confidence and only one point adrift of a Geelong side that had a lot of time in possession.

 

GIANTS ASCEND

Chloe Scheer was tireless for the Cats, and managed to get a goal from a strong tackle on Pepa Randall to give her team a moment to breathe, but GWS had their tails up and were looking to finish strong.

At only 4 minutes into the second half, this would be Geelong’s last goal for the match as GWS’ gameplan and pressure took hold.

One tactic that we’ve seen so often in the AFLW is to have a player roaming the goal line. Whether it’s the shorter kicking distance or a majority of players wanting to be in front of the pack, so many goals have been saved by a player holding the line.

Geelong didn’t do that, and it allowed Jessica Doyle to work off the back of the pack to collect a mark in the goal square to put through GWS’ first goal of the third quarter, bringing the margin back to a point.

Another quick entry and some weaving in traffic allowed Doyle to put through another goal, giving the Giants the lead. You could almost see the heads drop as the Cats looked like they were already planning what they wanted on their Mad Monday Parmie, while GWS still wanted to take care of business.

Staunton once again stepped up, with her pressure on the defence causing her opponent to give away a free kick for a throw that Cora converted in her trademark fashion, then with under a minute left in the game, she showed she still wasn’t satisfied by making the most of the half chance. She gathered, snapped and converted truly to push herself into the equal lead of the goal kicking award with 18 goals, matching the total of Tayla Harris.

Unfortunately for Staunton, while Harris didn’t add to her total of 18, St Kilda couldn’t contain Ashleigh Woodland, and her two goals were enough for her to take the honours. She probably should have had a few more really, but it was enough to get the job done.

18 goals would have been enough to win the title in every other season, but while it’d have been great to see Staunton get the honour, Woodland is a deserved winner, just as GWS were in this game.

 

STATS THAT MATTERED

Geelong had a lot of influence in the first half, but their depth was found lacking in the second.

As an example, only four GWS players had five or less touches during the match, while eight Cats couldn’t’ make the stats team start counting on a second hand.

Also, several Geelong players failed to register a single tackle, and a third of their team registered one or less, while GWS only had three players in that category.

The biggest stat though was in the ruck battle.

 

RUCK BATTLE

Hands down, McKinnon won this one. Her 47 taps easily accounted for the 18 that Barber, Fuller, Darby and McWilliams managed between all of them. Even their regular ruck Barber could only manage nine. Nine to 47 is a pantsing, no matter how you look at it.

I really like the way McKinnon plays. Ruck work can be an artform, with graceful leaping and deft taps to advantage, giving midfielders silver service as they wheel away into the wide open grasslands of the oval. Then, there’s the opposite end. The rucks that just love to keep hitting the contest, flex their might and make every player a little skittish when they hear the thumping of footsteps chasing them.

That’s the way McKinnon plays, and I’m here for it.

That doesn’t’ mean she’s one-dimensional—her tap work and body positioning is excellent—but she’s not afraid to be the bully. There’s more than a few comparisons with GWS’ other ruck in Shane Mumford. Neither tries to be too subtle, or lets the fact that someone is between them and the ball make them worry about changing their direction.

As a wise man one said “Bigger isn’t always better, but it’s always bigger”, and McKinnon isn’t afraid to be the bigger, badder player around the ball, and it’s a delight to watch.

 

MCDONALD AND PRESPAKIS PAIRING

Is there a more complementary midfielder couple than these two? That was rhetorical, of course there isn’t. Both of these players have immense talent, but as might be expected in a league that is still adapting, they both have areas that they need to work on. Fortunately, where one lacks, the other is supreme.

The way Prespakis reads the play and can find a target by hand or foot is a joy to watch. If the TV shows the wider shots (or you can get to a game next year) watch how she sets up around the ground. It’s like a snake working its way through a forest, then darting in to strike and move away. She’s constantly in motion and seems to be continually evaluating options and planning her next three moves.

The only criticism I have for her is that she can struggle a bit with the physicality of the in and under work. She’s a bit of a lightweight and can be pushed around occasionally by bigger-bodied mids. That’s not to say she’s soft, she gets a bit of her own ball, but against the bulldozers, she just doesn’t have the frame yet.

This is where Amy McDonald excels. She might not be the biggest body on the park, but her tenacity is such that I haven’t seen someone so hungry to rough up some other women since the last time I went to a pub that had 2-for-1 “cosmopolitan” jugs and there was a 7-woman scrag fight in the car park.

Her tackling is also brilliant, and her gut-running is on-par with the best in the league. Her ability to hit up Prespakis as she runs past the pack is excellent as well, but there is an area that can’t be ignored in her game—her kicking is very problematic. It’s actually improve this season, but she still does that odd off-balance two-handed drop while looking at her own feet. She does get some distance with it, but her shorter passes are often erratic.

Her partner in crime Prespakis though is excellent in her delivery by foot, regardless of the distance. And so, we get the repeated play of McDonald at the coalface handballing to a moving Prespakis who might need to shrug off a chaser, but can often do so well enough to assess and choose an option that suits a teammate.

As these two work off each other, it’ll be of immense benefit to Geelong if they can absorb a little from each other’s skillset.

 

WHERE TO NOW?

GWS were without some of their key players, but still got the job done. They’re still a shade off the pace of the top teams, but have a lot to work on in the offseason. With the final four clubs fielding a side next season, it may be just the sort of upheaval that will allow them to trade some of their experienced players for promising youth, allowing the new teams to add some older heads to the young talent they’ve been nurturing at state level.

Geelong have a lot that they can look forward to also, but to my eye they look to have a few more holes that need plugging than GWS. Their ruck stocks are a bit lacking, as well as their talls generally. The midfield is working well, but could always use a bit more class. I think they’ll be better than the new teams next year, but not quite good enough to push the top tier as often as they’d like.

Both teams were savaged by injury this season, but if fans are being honest, most teams can say the same.

Still, that’s no reason not to be hopeful of next season. Word is it may even be later this year, so you never know how it’ll all play out.

 

 

COLLINGWOOD (6. 11. 47) DEFEATED RICHMOND (1. 3. 9)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

The equation for Collingwood heading into this game was simple: Win and you’re in the Finals Series.

When the teams were announced on Friday, this was Collingwood’s to lose, with the Tigers losing key players in Katie Brennan, the Hosking twins and Tessa Lavey. And on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Victoria Park, there was no better way for the Pies to stamp their ticket to the finals and salute their fans at home than with a resounding victory over the Tigers.

As it currently stands, they are most likely to take on Brisbane in Queensland next week, if results are to go according to schedule and the Lions beat the Bulldogs and Fremantle do the job on the Gold Coast Suns.

Despite their injuries, the Pies dominated Richmond around the ground in general play and never really gave them much of a chance until the game was well and truly decided in the last quarter.

To be truthful, I wrote them off after their game against North Melbourne – they looked toothless, lost for answers and lacked the ruthless aggression that teams above them currently have. But since then, an impressive win against the Bulldogs, a game where they had every right to pinch it against the Crows and now this – the Pies are once again daring to dream.

As Collingwood have found answers to their injury woes, the Tigers simply haven’t. They’ve had a massive mountain to climb with injuries to key personnel over the season and no one to really cover the holes forming in the side.

Having said that though, there were signs across the year that the Tigers are on the come up and providing expansion doesn’t set them back a couple of years (one of many teams that can ill-afford that to happen), should be pushing for a spot in the top 6-8 teams in the competition in a few years.

 

THE BULL

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster season for Mikala Cann this year, but as we approach the finals, she’s looming large as a very important player for the Pies this post-season.

Whether or not she’s expansion-bound in the off-season remains to be seen, but over the past few weeks, she has really turned her game up to new heights that we have not seen from her in previous seasons.

It’s so cruel to say that without the injuries to Bri Davey and Brittany Bonnici, this rich vein of form does not happen, but that’s a harsh reality of football and has been for quite some time. Against the Tigers, she was simply brilliant around the contest, showing just why everyone at the club calls her ‘The Bull’ – because she just runs riot with her attack on the ball and it takes so much to stop her.

I loved watching her match up on Monique Conti around the stoppages, if you were to put the two of them in a phone box with the football in there, then I’ll pay big money for it because they are two of the most tenacious on-ballers that the competition has to offer.

Conti had moments in the game where she would typically weave herself out of traffic, but it’s the stoppage work of Cann and her ability to extract clearances that saw her take the chocolates in this duel. Cann went into quarter time with three clearances to her name and finished with seven for the match to go along with her 22 disposals and five tackles.

Her importance to this makeshift midfield cannot be understated, but no one player is going to be important for the Pies this post-season than…

 

THE ULTIMATE BALANCED MIDFIELDER

Jaimee Lambert. What else can I say about her that hasn’t already been spoken about?

Perhaps she gets lost in amongst the meteoric rise of Bri Davey and the incredible evolution of Brittany Bonnici from lockdown midfielder to an out-and-out workhorse. But there’s always been one constant in Lambert’s game and that’s been through sheer consistency in her efforts towards the contest.

Of course, with no Davey and no Bonnici, extra pressure no doubt would’ve been on Lambert to continue to keep on with her form, and she just shrugs her shoulders and just gets to it. I’ve always appreciated that about Lambert – no bullshit, all business and good heavens, can she get it done or what?

Lambert’s 31 disposals is a career-best for her, but it’s through her two-way approach that makes this even more impressive. 10 of those 31 touches were contested and when you look at how she delivers the ball inside 50, there’s great precision on those kicks to allow the forwards to run on to it and deny their direct opponents the opportunity to spoil it.

Taking this ‘two-way’ approach even further is that when the opposition has the ball, she hunts the opposition to get it back. Over the past three games, Lambert averages bang-on eight tackles per game and put up another eight tackles in this one too.

If you haven’t given Lambert her props or dues yet, best you do it now before the end of Collingwood’s season. In a way, maybe she still gets underrated by those outside the four walls at Collingwood.

 

BEC’S BIG BREAK

It must’ve been over a month ago, that I was in the car on the West Gate listening to Richmond and North Melbourne on the radio, when Chyloe Kurdas compared Rebecca Miller to Adelaide’s Sarah Allan.

Now for those who have only just recently started reading these reviews in past weeks, it cannot be stressed enough that I love Sarah Allan and I hold her in as the best key defender of the competition – barely loses a one-on-one, sets up beautifully behind the footy and has the speed and the athleticism to deny the opposition forwards a clean run of the ball.

So, as you can see, it’s pretty bold to compare one to the best key defender in the competition, right? But I think Chyloe is onto something with Miller, because in past weeks, she’s been finding some incredible form in Richmond’s back five. Even more impressive when you consider that Harriet Cordner has been out of the side since the early goings of the season.

Her ability to defend in the one-on-ones were critical in ensuring that the Tigers didn’t get blown out more than what they eventually got, it was nice seeing her play one-on-one against Chloe Molloy several times. Molloy is a player who I’ve said a few times is a player that counts on her speed to break from her direct opponent and Miller has the pace which I think is quite underrated.

Another underrated facet of her game is that she’s able to take the game on and rebound the ball out of the defensive half with a regularity that you don’t see too often with key defenders. She averaged 4.3 rebound 50s leading up to this contest and finished this game with eight for the match, going over 73 percent disposal efficiency.

I hope to see this Richmond team at full strength for most of next season, because if they can, I can see Miller pressing a serious claim for an All-Australian blazer.

 

NOTHING TO LOSE

There was a lot of ‘Play on at all costs’ mentality from the Pies in this game – I’m not sure how you readers feel about it, but I love it.

The players, the coaches, the staff around the Pies camp, I reckon they’ll be the first ones to tell you that most, if not everyone, are writing them off ahead of the finals. Which is exactly why I am a massive fan of the team playing on at every chance they get, nothing to lose right? I guess I am a big advocate of going down in a blaze of glory.

I look at players like Sarah Rowe, Ruby Schleicher and Aishling Sheridan, players that possess great running power and when they play on, these players look so good when they run through the middle of the ground, and they split the game open through their running game.

The Pies smashed Richmond in the uncontested possession count, in fact they doubled the amount of uncontested ball the Tigers had, and then had added another uncontested possession on top of that, because why not? 161-80 is just the means of the Pies working harder around the ground and ripping them apart with their run and spread.

I also would like to highlight the work of Steph Chiocci in this one. There were many occasions where – whether it be through mark or a free kick – through a pause in the game, she would just take off and catch the defenders off guard and allowed the forwards to take advantage of the situation a couple of times.

If you’re Brisbane (most likely) looking at this next week, you need to make sure the troops stay on their toes and not allow any Collingwood players to take off so easily – but given their pressure this season has been top notch, it’d have to be a game early in the morning to catch the Lions off guard.

 

WHERE TO FOR ELLIE MCKENZIE?

Thought Ellie McKenzie played a very tough and uncompromising game in this one.

For the Tigers to take the next step next season, whether that be four months from now or in 2023, Richmond needs to find midfielders that can ease the workload off of Mon Conti and there’s no doubt if you ask around, you’ll find that McKenzie is the second in line.

A 14-disposal game may not sound so great, but it’s how she attacks and applies the contest that won me over in this game. She’s already got a very big body and is powerful through the upper body, so if she attacks at speed, it will have to take a player of Charlie Rowbottom proportions to stop her.

Of course, the year for her was compromised when she required surgery on her calf in the lead up to round one and that forced her to miss the first month of action. There have been times this season where she has looked a bit out of sorts in comparison to midfielders playing against her, but there will be a time that we see her truly emerging as the start we know she can be.

It was a tough afternoon for the Tigers midfielders, smashed -20 in contested possessions and dominated in the clearances -12, but I thought her application to contest was rock solid – 14 disposals and six contested possessions, she was doing her best in the midfield that was clearly lacking for depth.

Also, side note – play to the whistle, don’t just assume that because you’ve missed the bounce that’s it. Go again, that just looked weird.


OTHER BITS

I see that Maddy Brancatisano was named in Richmond’s best players on the AFLW website. I don’t know what game Sarah Black was watching, but I thought she was terrible. Had 11 handballs and I think half of them she coughed up like she was afraid of getting tackled.

I am a big fan of Emilia Yassir. Gives away a few too many free kicks for my liking, but there is no questioning her hunger towards tackling players and no questioning her efforts in the forward line. Got beaten around a fair bit by the opposition players – hope Jordyn Allen gets a week for that hit, completely unnecessary.

Speaking of, does Sophie Casey have a case to answer for her hit on Tayla Stahl? Same sort of hit that landed Najwa Allen a two-week holiday last week. But the ball was right there, that may just save her from suspension.

Chloe Molloy’s evasiveness on Rebecca Miller was incredibly cool to watch, but I don’t want to see anyone complain that she’s battling a bad back.

Sabrina Frederick kicked 1.2 – but it felt like it was another big game from her this week. That goal she kicked was just incredible, made great purchase with the ball and the fact she just swung off a step basically to snap that is absurd.

Alana Porter in the middle? Yes please, I think her ability to tackle, and her burst of speed is so underrated in this Collingwood team.

Can someone tell me what exactly Kodi Jacques or Sarah Dargan bring to this team? Conversations I’ve had with Richmond supporters tells me that both bring next to sweet bugger all.

Maddie Shevlin backed up her big game against the Giants last week with a nice rebounding game in this one, looks to have really firmed her place inside Richmond’s best 21 and her use of the ball was quite a solid feature in her game

Without Brennan in this team, Courtney Wakefield copped the brunt of the Collingwood backline in just her second game back from a lengthy injury layoff. Stacey Livingstone did a big number on her.

 

 

NORTH MELBOURNE (9. 5. 59 D) DEFEATED WEST COAST (3. 2. 20)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

So, shall we dive on into the Ash Riddell show?

We’ll get there, but there are a couple of stops on this train before we get to Ashville.

The Roos looked sharp early, but a couple of goals to West Coast set them back on their heels, and gave them something to think about. Not for long, though. North kicking the last three goals of the first quarter to go into quarter time with a handy lead.

They would not look back.

 

THE PUNISHER

First stop on the train to Ashville is Garner Town.

In any other game, we would be lauding the exploits of Jasmine Garner yet again. Her hands were once again brilliant in this clash, and her body use and vision demonstrated just why she is rated as one of the best in the game right now, and has been for the past few years.

It seemed as though every time Garner got her hands on the pill, North would move the ball quickly and score. As North gathered momentum in the last seven or eight minutes of the first quarter, it was Garner leading the way. Taking strong marks, kicking to position, and bringing her teammates into the game, she was the standout player of the game.

Yep, you read that correctly – despite the brilliance and prolific ball-winning of Ash Riddell, which we will get to, the work of Jasmine Gamer to set this Kangaroos team up was spectacularly good. After nine touches in the first quarter, Garner added 17 over the next three periods, including a couple of goals of her own, and at least two direct goal assists I can think of.

I titled her section of this column “The Punisher” because when Garner is permitted a run at the footy, she punishes teams as effectively as any player in this competition. Yes, the plaudits will go to Riddell, and rightly so – breaking a record so significantly deserves every ounce of praise it gets, but the work of Jas Garner in this game should not be downplayed by any stretch.

She was a star.

 

STANDING TALL

Speaking of stars, the next stop on our journey welcomes you to Kings Park. The contested mark work of Emma King in the first half really aided North in establishing their lead.

King was probably unlucky to miss out on adding a couple more contested grabs to her stat sheet, as she appeared to have controlled the footy in the air a couple of times before being called to play on.

She finished with a couple of goals, playing mainly forward and leaving the ruck role to the highly-capable Kim Rennie.

 

THE PAIN OF BEING A TAGGER

Can you just get to Ashville?

Nope… not yet. We have one more stop to make – this time in Kearneytopia.

In an interesting move, West Coast sent one of their best runners to stand next to Emma Kearney in the first half of this game.

Mikayla Bowen was handed the job of stifling the creativity and hard run of Kearney from half back – a role she will most likely see her notch her sixth All-Australian selection this season. It was a good choice – I am sure it felt like the right one, but the thing about tagging as a half forward, you have to rely on your teammates kicking the footy to your advantage.

And relying on this collection of Eagles is a dangerous proposition at the best of times.

Several times, Bowen made space to keep Kearney accountable and prevent her from getting involved in the play, only to see her unskilled, or non-composed teammates butcher the footy inside 50, giving Bowen no chance in hell of keeping Kearney busy.

On a couple of occasions, the Eagles kicked the ball directly to Kearney as she was trailing Bowen. It was almost as though they were spotting her up and missing Bowen on purpose. Did they catch Bowen going through their bags or something at some stage? If she is making space, at least get the ball out in her path – not ten metres behind her where her damn opponent is sagging off!

Kearney went about her business, and Bowen was released from tagging duties after halftime, which would have been a relief. If given the correct support from teammates in this one, we might be talking about how well Bowen played in curtailing Kearney, but given the astronomical levels of suckiness with the footy of these West Coast Eagles, we’re adding another stellar outing to pile for Kearney in 2022.

 

THE RECORD BREAKER

Fine, fine… we’ve arrived.

Welcome to Ashville!

The diminutive North power runner was at her best in this game, smashing the previous disposals record (of which she held a third of) but seven disposals in the type of performance that speaks not only of her prowess as a player, but of the work it has taken to get there.

Allow me to fill in the blanks.

Ash Riddell was apparently not good enough to be drafted into AFLW.

TWICE!!!

Given her chance in 2019, she showed plenty as a borderline best-20… or however many damn positions there are in AFLW teams… player. Even back then, if you care to look up our reviews, we were singing her praises here at The Mongrel.

2020 saw her jump out of the box and claim All-Australian honours in her second season in the game, and since then, it is as though she has been shot out of a cannon, rising higher and higher and putting together performances that made those who overlooked her feel pretty bloody stupid.

She is not the fastest runner out there, but put her aside some of the better runners in the game and you’ll see Ash Riddell running as hard, and at the same pace with two minutes to go in the game as she did with two minutes expired in the first.

I didn’t get to review the North game last week, as I happily handed it over to the man with more AFLW knowledge than any of us here at The Mongrel – Alex Docherty. In his review, he stated that despite Riddell picking up 28 touches in the loss to Brisbane, Riddell didn’t really hurt the opposition.

Did you read that, Ash? Did it make you screw your face up? Hell, it made me screw mine up, and when I watched the first quarter of this game, what I saw was someone who was as sure by foot as any player in the game. She collects the footy, finds the right option, and delivers. She had ten touches in the first quarter – nine hit the target. The other came under duress.

The second quarter provided more of the same – another 12 disposals as she put distance between herself and Eagles star, Emma Swanson. This was where the hard work paid off. All the kilometres in the offseason, all the sacrifice… when people talk about AFLW players only being part time and not having the impetus to do the extra work, I present Ash Riddell as the counterpoint – she is an embodiment of working her backside off and seeing the results.

Finishing with 42 touches in a game that is played with far less minutes (and the clock doesn’t stop for boundary throw ins… watch it – they waste 15-18 seconds every time it goes out of bounds), the performance of Riddell is one that should be celebrated by all associated with AFLW – not just North Melbourne.

And so, as someone who has followed Riddell’s career since she commenced in AFLW, I was rapt to be able to cover this game and watch her play her game. I’m proud of you, Ash – congrats.

 

OTHER BITS

Really difficult to find positives for the Eagles in this one, but the defensive work of Beth Schilling was a bright note. There was a period in the second quarter where she looked like taking the game on from defensive fifty. I loved what I saw, particularly seeing that level of confidence from an 18-year-old.

A couple of question marks around the game of Ellie Gavalas. Whoa… wait on Mongrel – she had 19 touches, which was one below her season high. What’s the deal?

The deal is that when there was the threat of contact, Gavalas looked timid. Twice, she dropped her head in overhead marking contests and spilled the footy in situations that turned out to be uncontested. She also looked like she was playing footy devoid of confidence, missing targets and hurriedly throwing the ball on the boot. Some things to work on, there.

Tough day at the office for Jenna Bruton. It looked as though Ashlee Atkins could have killed her at one point when she smashed a knee into her back in a marking contest. Bruton just keeps getting up, though. Her 27 touches were the standard “fly under the radar” game from her.

Sarah Wright had a bit of a party at half-back, chopping off the errant WCE inside 50 attempts with ease. This season, she had reached double figures in touches just one, with 11. She doubled that in this game.

And another solid outing from Mia King in this one. With the North midfield so stacked with talent, she will have to wait her turn for her turn to shine. That said, with expansion occurring next season, there will be opportunities arise, be they at North in the wake of someone leaving, or elsewhere.

 

 

MELBOURNE (5. 4. 34) DEFEATED CARLTON (5. 3. 33)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

The Dees secured a top-two spot, and a weekend off in the first week of finals, with a narrow win over a hard-at-it Carton team. After a thumping win on the expanses of Optus Stadium last weekend, Melbourne headed back home to Casey Field and enjoyed nowhere near the leeway they were permitted by the injury-hit Dockers.

The Blues hit every contest hard, and when Nicola Stevens slotted her third for the game to bring the margin under a kick, there was a real sense that the Blues could pinch this game, and in doing so, open the door for the Brisbane Lions to pinch a top two spot.

It was not to be, however, with Maddy Gay clunking a big “Get out of Jail” mark down the line in the dying stages to see Melbourne hang on by a point.

 

GOLDRICK DIGGER

This is a two-fold section, covering praise for Sinead Goldrick, who works her ass off in defence each and every week, and is completely unafraid of any job handed to her. It is also a whack to Darcy Vescio, who is a marquee name in the competition but refused to get out of second gear for the first three quarters of the game.

In short, Goldrick’s tenacity and willingness to attack the ball with a head of steam rendered Darcy Vescio a complete non-factor. The Carlton star had seven touches for the game – three of them came before half time as Goldrick continually led her to the footy and put in the hard yards to prevent Vescio from getting a sniff.

In one instance early in the fourth quarter, Vescio seemed to be in cruise control, ready to take a mark on the chest, but the charging Goldrick managed to get a fist in and make the spoil. That mark should have been taken two or three metres further up the ground, and it should have been taken overhead. That Vescio waited for the ball to drop to try a chest mark, allowing Goldrick time to make the ground was their contest in a microcosm.

There’s an old saying – hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Tell me this – how many sprints did you see from Vescio in this game? How many times did you see Vescio pump those legs to get to a contest and make the ball her own?

I saw one and it was to lay a tackle – her only tackle of the game. Vescio’s penchant for running at the footy three-quarter pace played directly into Goldrick’s hands. The import plays at breakneck speed and took great delight in closing down the meandering Vescio’s space.

In a way, I was glad Vescio missed the goal in the last couple of minutes, as it would have diminished just how good Goldrick had been all game.

 

BAM BAM BANNAN

With eight goals in 2022, Alyssa Bannan is turning out to be a massive handful aross half-forward, with her pace always giving teams fits, but her overhead marking is now turning heads as well.

She finished with three goals in this game, matching the effort of Nicola Stevens at the other end. All of Bannan’s scoreboard impact came in the first half, as the Dees set up the win.

We didn’t really get to see much of it in this game, but if the Dees can manufacture any space at all out wide, players like Bannan and Casey Sheriff can tear teams to shreds with their power running. Bannan didn’t need the space in this one, managing to work herself into the right position to capitalise on both the hard work of teammates and the mistakes of the defence to slot a career-high total for goals.

 

GUERIN ‘EM LIKE A GLOVE

There was a lot to like about the Blues in this one, but somthing that stood out to me was the attack of Maddy Guerin.

She had 19 touches in this one, but it was the 12 tackles she laid that really caught my eye – and not the “hold the jumper and hope for a whistle” kind of tackles, either. When Guerin dragged a player down in this contest, they damn well stayed tackled.

I’ve given up looking on the AFLW app to see who was listed as the best for each team, but if Guerin doesn’t make the cut this week, I’ll delete the bloody thing and never look at it again.

 

HEATH-ING UP

WE can look at the matchup between Shelley Heath and Georgia Gee in one of two ways. Either Gee was soundly beaten by the determined Heath, or Gee is perhaps not as good as people have been proclaiming.

So, whilst I lean toward the first option, it was interesting to listen to whichever bozo on commentary started talking about how much they loved watching Gee play footy. Which part? The art where she only had seven touches for the game? You know who else enjoyed that?

Her opponent!

If you’re going to dole out praise, dole it out to the person earning it. Gee is renowned for her run and carry, but there was little of either of those in this game. Every time she went near the footy, Heath was right with her, making her life miserable and simply outworking her.

Whilst I am not sure Heath’s name will be brought up during AA discussions (smaller lockdown defenders rarely get recognised), her game in this one should be commended. She played on one of the more dangerous ball users in the Carlton side and took her to school.

She finished with 15 touches and five and she chased, harassed and used her body to outposition Gee. It should be noted that Gee got bugger all in terms of physical support from teammates. No blocking, no shepherding – nothing. The Blues may be holding their head high after coming so close to a hit premiership fancy, but with a little more team-oriented play, they may have caused the upset, here.

 

THE BIG GIRLS FLY

Are you allowed to call them that? Big girls? Or will someone come after me?

I’m referring to the ruck contest between Lauren Pearce and Breann Moody, which became more important as the contest wore on. In particular, I liked the second efforts of Moody, who thinks nothing of chasing down smaller players and applying the pressure.

She registered seven tackles in this one, but sadly, no running bounces.

Pearce became a bit of a thorn in the Blues’ side as the Dees set up across half back to pen the Blues in. Not that she was clunking big marks, but she was preventing the Blues exiting their defence with anything remotely like ease.

If we’re looking at the overall contest, I give the nod to Moody – she was the catalyst for the Blues working back into the game (not that they were ever really out of it, but when they charged, it was her ruck work that gave them a leg-up), although I am sure many could argue that Pearce’s influence was just as important.

 

OTHER BITS

That was probably the shakiest I’ve seen Libby Birch in defence for a while. Normally, she is as surefooted as a mountain goat, but I guess that there are some days where even a mountain goat falls off a mountain, right?

Tyla Hanks’ inside handballing is insanely good. You can tell she grew up watching and involved in the game, as she used what many in AFLW are not aware of when executing handballs – good angles. Sounds simple, right? Then why don’t more do it?

Hanks will reach up and over, or out and around an opponent in order to ensure she gets a clean handball away and hits a target. It’s a talent we see all too seldom in AFLW, but will see more and more of as players with Hanks’ experience flow through the ranks.

Excellent game from Paige Trudgeon playing on Tayla Harris. The former Blue did not look aggressive at all in the first half and by the time she started trying to throw her weight around, it was clear that she was out of sorts. Credit Trudgeon for doing the hard work and restricting a player that has been in hot form recently.

WE only saw it in fits and starts, but I loved seeing Vaomua Laloifi go head-to-head with Daisy Pearce. Such a contrast in styles.

And finally, Keeley Sherar… a pretty nice outing for her. I’m telling my five year old daughter that her name is She-Ra, just so she becomes her favourite player. For the honour of Grayskull, indeed.

 

 

ADELAIDE (7. 11. 53) DEFEATED ST KILDA (2. 2. 14)

REVIEWER – HB MEYERS

 

We’ll look at this game and assume it went according to script, right? The Crows did what they needed to do, with their midfield pair of Ebony Marinoff and Anne Hatchard combining for 48 touches to power Adelaide home.

But there was a lot more to this game, with tempers running over in the third quarter following an accidental knee from Hatchard in a marking contest left Darcy Guttridge writhing on the ground. Kate McCarthy decided to fly the flag seconds later, hitting Justine Mules high after she disposed of the footy and then giving away a 50 metre penalty to make a sure thing to put the game beyond doubt.

A late injury to Mules soured the win for the Crows, as they secured top spot, booked a hom Preliminary Final, and saw Ash Woodland kick a couple of goals to finish as the highest goal-kicker of the season.

Let’s jump into the details.

 

THE HAVES V THE HAVE-NOTS

There is a clear divide in the league at the moment. With expansion abut to occur again, it seems that things could go either way when it comes to levels of talent during the next AFLW season.

Right now, the Crows are stacked for high-end talent – top to bottom, they have players that can come in, perform roles, and complement the work of the stars of the team. They have some of the best players in the league wearing their colours, and have talent in the guts, up forward, and in defence as well.

The Saints, on the other hand, lost arguably their two brightest prospects this season, with Georgia Patrikios sitting out due to issues pertaining to the Covid Vaccine, and Tyanna Smith, who suffered an ACL injury last season and was unavailable in 2022.

Sadly for the Saints, those absences seemed to put the brakes on whatever momentum thy built in 2021. Patrikios, in particular, is a massive loss, having two St Kilda Best and Fairest awards under her belt before turning 20. Though her loss has been lamented by those in AFLW circles, the circumstances surrounding her absence almost seemed to prevent commentators and experts from speaking about her in detail.

It’s probably time someone did.

Patrikios is the St Kilda equivalent of Carlton’s Maddy Prespakis – different types of players, but in terms of impact, it is not a terrible comparison. Taking Prespakis out of the Carlton midfield leaves them looking fragile and shorthanded, just as Patrikios’ absence has left the Saints looking vulnerable when moving the footy. This is compounded by the injury to Smith, who looked very ready to take a big step before disaster struck.

For the Saints, it was like being punched in the face with the left hand and then copping a right cross on the chin for their troubles.

Meanwhile, the Crows boast emerging stars like Teah Charlton, Eloise Jones, and Nikki Gore. They have been permitted to cut their AFLW teeth under the tutelage of established dominant stars like Phillips, Hatchard, Marinoff, Allan, and Randall.

He Crows have so much. The Saints have so little. That St Kilda were able to hand with the Crows at all was a damn miracle!

How the teams look following the upcoming off-season will be intriguing. Do the Crows retain their stars? Do they allow one or two to wander off onto better deals elsewhere and fill them by adding more responsibility to the cohort of Jones, Charlton and Gore? And do the Saints get their two young stars back for the next AFLW season? I guess that is more to do with Patrikios, as her return may hinge upon where the country is as a whole in terms of vaccine mandates. It would be an absolute shame for her to be lost to the game over something like this.

Can the Crows continue to be one of the power teams with money and marquee positions being offered by four new clubs? Can the Saints rebound and bring back to of their best t kickstart them?

 

CHEAP SHOT ARTIST

I love a good bit of physical work. A good hip and shoulder, a solid shepherd to clear a path for a teammate… as long as you don’t go high, I am all for it.

However, the late bump from Kate McCarthy was cheap, and deserves to be looked at.

As you can see in the footage below, McCarthy was evidently upset by the treatment Darcy Guttridge copped in a marking contest with Anne Hatchard moments before and took it upon herself to even up for her team by decking the wide-open Justine Mules as she disposed of the footy. The fact Mules bounced back to her feet should not matter – I am a believer in punishing the act, not the outcome. This was bush league footy stuff.

McCarthy has had a disappointing season. It almost seems as though a suspension, or at least a reprimand would be on-brand as a way to end it. Not only did she give the free kick away, further remonstrating inside 50 saw Stevie Lee Thompson kick from the goal line after McCarthy gave away a 50 metre penalty.

 

GOAL QUEEN

For a little while early in the game, it seemed as though Ash Woodland was not wearing her kicking boots. The opportunities were there, but she was rushed and looked like someone attempting to manufacture opportunities, rather than taking those that came her way.

It took until the second quarter for Woodland to join Cora Staunton and Tayla Harris at the top of the AFLW goalkicking ladder, but with the way she was kicking, she could have very well have eclipsed the total by the end of the first.

She finished the game with 2.3 officially (I reckon another miss was attributed as a rushed behind, but it was a clear miss to her) and has had a terrific season as the number one forward option for… nah, she is the number two option. Phillips remains the umber one forward target, but as a backup, Woodland’s work has been phenomenal.

Woodland’s 19 goals is the highest total in an AFLW home and away season, and should the Crows lose Erin Phillips following this season, they would be somewhat content knowing that they have not only Woodland to fill the void up forward,. but Stevie Lee Thompson as well, who was a revelation when she played up forward in 2019.

They bat deep, this mob.

 

ONE GRIPE

Hoping this is just a quickie (if I only had a dollar…)

A note to the commentators – Erin Phillips does not need you pumping up her tyres when she makes an error. She is good enough to own a mistake, be disappointed in her misstep and move past it. Stating the facts is not something you should be wary of – call it like you see it.

With about seven and a half minutes remaining in the second quarter, Ebony Marinoff speared a pass to Phillips at fifty. She marked on the chest, turned immediately onto her right foot and tried to hit up the wide open Danielle Ponter who was cruising toward goal. The thing is, she missed missed her completely, and the ball sailed over her head and out of bounds. It was a skill error, and I reckon Phillips would be the first to put her hand up and say she should have done better in that instance.

However, listening to the commentary, it was as though they were either too scared, or had been instructed never to be critical of skill errors, because the first commentator asked whether Ponter could keep the footy in? She had no bloody chance – Phillips missed her by five metres.

He then added that Phillips’ vision was magnificent to spot Ponter out by herself. The other talking head agreed, as you’d expect, adding that Phillips has 360-vision as if she was a Masters of the Universe figure. Not a word was uttered about how she botched the kick and cost Ponter a good chance at running in and having a ping at goal. What is the deal with that?

I can understand that when you have players coming through the ranks, there are going to be skill errors that occur. Hell, it happens at every level for both genders, but Phillips is no rookie. She is a world-class athlete – a professional in every sense. She has strutted her stuff on the world stage and hung with the best athletes on the planet. She doesn’t need you glossing over her mistakes like she is some delicate little flower. Is her status now such that you cannot mention when she makes an error? Can you not just speak it the way it happened?

We all love Erin Phillips. She is universally admired in our game, but so much criticism for the way AFLW is covered stems from the fact that commentators treat the viewers like complete bloody idiots. It’s no use having great vision and a wonderful instinct if you’re missing targets, and Phillips does it seldom enough that stating she needed to do better, or that she probably cost her team a scoring opportunity does nothing to diminish her standing in the sport. If anything, talking about how it can happen to the best players in the game makes it easier to accept when a less-experienced player makes the same mistake.

It’s just basic bloody commentary to call things as you see it without the stupid sugar-coating. How about trying it?

 

 

BRISBANE (10. 6. 66) DEFEATED WESTERN BULLDOGS (5. 4. 34)

REVIEWER – ALEX DOCHERTY

 

With the result in Adelaide sealed up during the day, this match was basically yielded as a dead rubber match.

Brisbane have got a home final sewn up, and it’ll most likely be against Collingwood unless by some miracle, the Suns beat Fremantle over there in the West. A loss to the Dogs and it would’ve had to have taken the Dogs to beat them by a million points to lose third spot to the Kangaroos.

Having said that, the Lions did not go through the motions in this game. With the exception of the opening five minutes of this game, the Lions clicked after the Dogs kicked the opening goal of the game and found another gear in the second half after the Dogs raised the challenge to the reigning premiers in the second term.

There’s a reason why the Lions are a premiership fancy and we got it in this game. The Bulldogs will be a formidable team in the future and there were signs here that proved this in this game. But the Lions have the talent and fitness to maintain consistency with their skills for much longer.

A 32-point gap between the two sides doesn’t reflect how heated this game was at times, but the Dogs threw their best, and the Lions countered it with some fists of their own.

It’s going to take three games this time around in the finals series for the Lions to be champions again, and despite being through injuries, covid protocols and everything else in between, they’ve got all the tools to do it, and they used up a lot of energy on the Dogs when they had every right to be reserved in preparation for the finals.

 

MIDFIELD’S FIRING AT THE RIGHT TIME

Before I start this off, I have small grievances I need to air to you both Emily Bates and Ally Anderson. You’re better than to chicken-wing and take out Kirsty Lamb off the ball, you’re both great football players, don’t tarnish it by playing like common street thugs – end Bulldog bias communication.

So, having said that, the inside work of these two, plus Isabel Dawes in this one was just outstanding in this one. After the Dogs controlled the opening five minutes or so in this contest, it felt as if the collective unit received a smack in the face by the rising stars and then started going awol on them.

By quarter time, the Lions had smacked the Bulldogs mids in the clearances, +8 – leading the charge, as she usually does, was Bates. Surely, she’d have to be in the discussion for league best and fairest right?

It’s been a season of vast improvement in several key areas for Bates – disposals, tackles, clearances and goals – all career high averages this year. In this one, she put up 21 disposals, finished the game on a whopping 12 clearances, but also finished with 11 tackles. In the NBA, you’d call that a triple double.

Well served alongside Bates is Anderson, who has been a very solid contributor this year without putting up the superstar numbers – six clearances and five tackles to go along with her 15 disposals.

But it’s the work of Dawes that I see as something critical as we head towards the finals. There’s no doubt that what she can do is simply brilliant. The stats line won’t read as exciting as that of her mates mentioned above, but I think about her bursting out of stoppages, running with the ball in her hands – she’s an impact per possession player, and I can sense some big games coming up for her.

In fact, this entire midfield unit is clicking at the right time. The tackling pressure is up, the clearance work is up and just the entire work-rate of this midfield is at the all-time high we saw from them last year.

 

LIFE’S A PRITCH

Apart from some moments, the work of Issy Pritchard in this one almost spoke to me as if this was her breakout game.

I’ll touch on the ‘some moments’ part first. Pritchard seems to want to find what we footballers like to call ‘The Perfect Option’. She got caught out when she tried to draw Orla O’Dwyer to draw contact from her before releasing the handball to her team mate on the outside. Credit to Orla for keeping width and not committing to the contest – does that and the Dogs are out, and they get an inside 50 and a chance to score.

Pritchard needs to commit to a decision, whether it’s the right one or it’s not. Against the premier sides like Brisbane, indecision will crucify you and your team. It’s accepted that everyone is going to make mistakes and poor decisions on field, God knows I’ve had my fair share over the years and even the great players get them wrong from time to time.

But this is where I’ll give her the props she deserves. Some kids hang their head on a moment and let it get to their head, but not Pritchard. she just keeps on going with the game. Aerially speaking, she was a massive presence, intercepting, taking big, contested marks on the wing, hands to the footy, it felt like she was doing everything.

I remember this time last year, as the Dogs’ season was ending that Pritchard had to be in this best 21 going forward, I think she’s firmly cemented her place beyond this season. Her marking hands are sensational, her athleticism means she can cover ground well and if she can iron out those little kinks like her lapses of decision making, then there’s no doubt the sky is the limit for her.

Her five marks led all Bulldogs on the ground, but she also recorded a career-best eight intercept possessions out of her 14 disposals. She’s heading for big things.

 

HAS SOPHIE CONWAY PLAYED HERSELF INTO ALL-AUSTRALIAN?

In Sophie Conway’s last four games, she has kicked a total of eight goals, that’s an average of two per game. If you want to break that down even further, Conway has kicked at least one goal in each of her past six games.

It’s hard to see wingers in both men’s and women’s football to be so consistent in hitting the scoreboard, but the thing about this Brisbane team is that they’ve got the tank and the leg speed to really carve up teams and work them over on fumes.

Orla O’Dwyer has unquestionably played herself into one wing in my All-Australian team, how the dickheads that pick the team will go in naming wingers this year will be a thing that always piques my interest. Orla came back into this team this week and basically picked up where she has left off all season – she holds her line well as an outside midfielder, and she has the polish with the ball in her hands to be incredibly destructive in the forward half.

Conway is in competition with a few others for that other wing spot. Like Orla, she doesn’t get sucked into the contest and holds her width. Last season, I noticed that Conway played a more defensive approach, playing as a loose behind the footy and being the ‘goalkeeper’ role in defence.

This year, she’s been given more of that free license to be more offensive, and part of that is because they’ve got other players, like Jade Ellenger, that can play the wing role when need be and link-up in the defensive half when they need players to move the ball out.

So, to answer the question, she certainly will be in my All-Australian calculations, which means she should one for the selectors of the AFLW All-Australian team to consider.

 

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO

There was an interesting conversation in the middle of the week with Chief Mongrel about star players and egos – I won’t touch on who exactly we were talking about at the time, just to save face.

But seeing Ellie Blackburn out there in this one reminded me of this conversation. There were some typically great captain’s moments from her as she tried to will herself and her team through the eye of the Brisbane storm that was before them, great bursts out of stoppage, good vision to her teammates working out of defence – by large, she was very good.

I’m not saying Blackburn has got a massive ego. However, there are also moments throughout the game where I pleaded her to ‘stop playing the hero’. When you look at how the Lions play and bring each other into the game, there’s not a lot of that in comparison to the Dogs.

I’ll bring to you a play from the fourth quarter. Blackburn receives the free kick just inside the 50, difficult angle. Instead of doing the team thing and popping it up to the top of the square for the forwards to lead into, or even just bringing it inboard and give someone else a better look, she tries to load up and it only travels 30 metres and out on the full.

I am also getting sick of the set play attempts in which Blackburn gives it to a player 50 metres out and then receiving it back to have a shot from 45 metres, basically every club has figured that out by now and it just does not work because the players have learned the teasing distance for it and how to directly close off the space once it’s initiated.

Maybe it’s an accusation of being too critical, but for the Dogs to go forward next season, keeping out of health and safety protocols certainly help, but also looking to play team-first footy inside the forward half at every chance helps too.

 

BODEY OF WORK

I’m starting to think that Greta Bodey is becoming underrated with her work as a forward. There seems to be very few speaking out about what exactly she brings to the table at Brisbane.

Last year, there was a handful of independent journalists (yours truly included) that sang the praises about how destructive she can be up forward, she hit the scoreboard consistently early, but then tapered away on scoreboard impact after that.

This year, the emphasis on her game has been more team-first than anything else. Yes, it’s true that she’s got goals on the board this year, she’s kicked 10.8 this season, including the two from this game. But it’s her willingness to get everyone else in the forward group involved and into the game that’s stood out to me this year.

She leads the Lions this year both in score involvements and direct goal assists – she posted three of the latter against the Bulldogs and could’ve easily have been one of those games where she breaks out and kicks four or five. But the Lions don’t emphasise on playing around just one player or a handful of players.

There’s a reason they are where they are in the AFLW and it’s through selflessness from players like Bodey who have every right to go for goal themselves, but instead, elects to pass it off to a player in a more open and likelier to convert an opportunity into six points.

I suppose simply put; I’ve just loved how far Greta Bodey has come in such a short time frame. You can easily mount the argument she is fast becoming Brisbane’s most important forward.

 

OTHER BITS

I hope either Nell Morris-Dalton or Bailey Hunt gets a word for basically neglecting to pick up Shannon Campbell when she sent home that kick from 40 metres out. Whilst Nell was the direct opponent in the play, Hunt stood the mark as Campbell initially chipped it to her teammate as Nell was pushing back in defence. Hunt literally turned her back after the kick and Campbell had all the time in the world.

On Campbell’s game, she was sensational in her role of negating Morris-Dalton in contests and at ground level – something that she’s worked sensationally on over the past number of weeks – and managed to impact in the Lions’ ball movement several times.

Loved the hard-hitting tackles by Phoebe Monahan in this game. The tackle after she directly turned it over the play before is just a sensational example of why you’re never out of a contest, she’s had a fine season to date.

The Dogs are trying to play the uncontested, chip-kick and mark style a fair amount in this game and saw them +29 in uncontested possessions and +32 in marks. A few were in defensive half, but the Lions’ press forced them to turn the ball over directly following that.

Loved Katie Lynch’s efforts in this game. Basically, she shut Dakota Davidson out of the game and prevented her from having a big impact It’s going to be hard to find a spot in my top 50 for her, but I think her efforts need to be praised.

Issy Grant too is another player I expect another massive step forward from next season, had a great game and I love her ability to take the game on and back herself to impact the contest through spoils or intercept marking.

It was an interesting ruck clash between Tahlia Hickie and Celine Moody. I thought Moody’s efforts in general play were brilliant, often deployed as a loose behind the footy and took some big marks when called upon. Seeing rucks run the ground and take a bounce is heart-in-mouth stuff, but I just love it when Celine does it.

Hickie herself recorded 27 hitouts and won out against the pair of Moody and Edmonds 28 and featured well with her second efforts at ground level, recording three clearances and eight disposals to go along with it.

One last thing, congratulations and all the best to Ashleigh Guest on retirement, I’ve had some things to say about her this season, sometimes not very positive, but 40 games of nothing but giving it her all in contests and willingness to put her body on the line inside the defensive half, she’s a true warrior in every sense of the word.

 

 

FREMANTLE (7. 4. 46) DEFEATED GOLD COAST (0. 9. 9)

REVIEWER – BRETT HODGSON

 

It came down to the final game of the season to determine whether Fremantle would be playing at home or away for the first week of the finals, all they had to do was beat Gold Coast by around 40 points. Fremantle kept the Suns scoreless, however just fell short of the target. For me personally, this game gave me a few question marks regarding what Fremantle could do when matched against the premier teams over the next few weeks- Here’s why

On first glance, you might believe that a 39-point victory that included a goalless opposition ticks all the boxes, however, that does not really tell the tale it should. While Fremantle won by a substantial margin, they only won the scoring shots 11-9 (plus a few more Suns shots that failed to score) Coming into this contest, I did not hold high hopes for Gold Coast, especially as Fremantle welcomed back Ebony and Kara Antonio, Roxy Roux, Gabby O’Sullivan, Emma O’Driscoll- and to top it all off, the defending co-MVP Kiara Bowers. In the end, Fremantle used an outstanding defensive gameplan from their midfield brigade, forced the Suns far outside their attack, and exhibited clean hands at stoppages to get the win. For Gold Coast, they put up a solid fight, and had a few bright spots, but lacked polish going forward- as their disposal efficiency (last in AFLW) counteracted a hard-working effort. Let’s see how this one played out.

 

ATTACK OF THE DEFENCE

In this game, the tandem of Angelique Stannett and Sarah Verrier roaming the Fremantle defence were borderline impenetrable. They controlled Gold Coast attacking surges at will, especially as gun forward Tara Bohanna was often forced so high upfield to impact the contest. The pair combined for a whopping 41 disposals, not to mention also adding some rebound with run and carry.

Gold Coast simply had no answer, unless it was going very very wide, or getting over the top in their slingshot counterattack. The play switching of Verrier in particular, cut open the Suns’ attempts to play Lauren Bella behind the ball in general play, while also allowing more space for the leading forwards to work upfield as well. The planning by Fremantle was spot on, almost conceding Bohanna the possession high up on the wing, allowing them to get a spare at the fall of the ball, to then set up a stinging counter of their own.

 

CLAMPING DOWN

Kiara Bowers did not skip a beat in her return to the game. She just managed to post a modest line of 18 disposals with a whopping 17 tackles. Despite the astronomical numbers, I will (probably controversially) say that her work to win the ball impressed me a lot more than her pure tackling. Gold Coast smashed Fremantle in hitouts (+12) and contested possessions (+18) but most of Bowers’ tackling numbers were either direct from hitouts, or being the second player in a group tackle. Her defensive work rate was outstanding, as she often mopped up around half back in general play, but her stoppage craft when she decided to go on the attack was outstanding. She has a habit of using slight movements and leverage to unbalance her opponent when they least expect it, and she quickly turns an inch into a meter (think Paul Hasleby) Rising star Claudia Whitford was the main benefactor of the Clamps Of Kiara, and she never shirked out of the fight. Whitford accumulated 17 disposals of her own, however, most of them were under intense pressure (when she could get a step on Bowers)

 

GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

For anybody that watches Fremantle, or AFLW in general – I urge you… keep your eye on Dana East

First off, let me preface this by saying I come from the same small town as Dana East, and if you watch her very very closely play you can perhaps notice small nuances in her game that you might think “this is not stuff that is ordinarily coached” or “instinct” however, having watched her father dominate my town’s local league years ago, and throwing in the competitive nature of both her parents in terms of sports, let me just confirm that “she comes from very very good stock” (so to speak)

The fact that the Dockers rotated her onto endurance machine Jamie Stanton, as well as the Suns inside tandem of Charlie Rowbottom and Ellie Hampson, despite her giving up a considerable size advantage (to the latter two) speaks volumes of her competitive nature. She also showed great patience with hitting up Gemma Houghton on the lead, to assist in the opening goal. At ground level, her hands were cleaner then a worksite supervisor but also, without the ball- this is where her football instincts in her bloodline came to play…

Quite often she immediately looks to set a block after firing out a handball, this skill in particular was on show when she gave out a handball to Kara Antonio, setting up her goal. She finished up with 10 disposals and seven tackles in this contest.

 

IT’S HAMMER TIME

With the Suns still in the game at halftime, Fremantle’s captain Hayley Miller lifted her workrate massively, she was absolutely everywhere right when she needed to be. Her dash off half-back to avoid Ali Drennan was simply superb. Providing the spark, but also knuckling down and getting to it.

This leads me to another point….

Gold Coast desperately missed leadership at crucial times throughout 2022, and I believe it ultimately played a factor in their campaign perhaps not getting as far as they thought. Credit where credit is due, as they went from bottom of the ladder to 10th, which is a remarkable turnaround from 12 months ago- while also conceding that Teegan and Maddi Levi were big losses to the side, even before it began. Hypothetically, if you did not know the Suns list, and you watched any game of this season, and I gave you ten guesses as to “who is the Gold Coast captain” would you guess correctly?

This is in no way an indictment of current skipper Hannah Dunn, as I do feel that a big change in position definitely could have altered her mindset or preparation, however, there was almost zero attempt to help her help herself. If your captain is a defender, they need to be commanding, vocal or strike fear into the hearts of their opponents- and unfortunately that is not her (in defence) If she is to stay on as skipper I believe she needs to be put back in and around the football or up forward to add to the pressure that Gold Coast struggle at times to generate.

Anyway, back to Miller.

She finished with 14 touches and a goal, but her run and carry, plus also some very subtle defensive plays did a lot in terms of covering the ball hunters for her side. The ultimate team game from the skipper

 

SHINING LIGHTS

For Suns fans, they might be one of the supporter bases looking forward to the quick turnaround, as they don’t have to wait as long to see the maturation of Daisy D’Arcy before their eyes. She was in great touch, and led an under siege defence. She has a remarkable assurance and calmness under fire, combined with a pinpoint left foot. 16 disposals and five tackles off half-back for her in a very handy display that kept the Suns in the contest for the majority of the game.

Ali Drennan was on a mission in this game as well, playing in mainly a high half-forward role, she pushed hard into the contest at crucial times providing some added pace to the Gold Coast brigade. In a big four-quarter effort, Drennan had a game high 25 disposals and showcased her “never say die” attitude

Gold Coast did get some great looks at the goals, however, Sarah Perkins missed a few set shots, Ellie Hampson and Ashanti Bush missed gettable shots running in on goal as well. The movement of Bush was a factor, and was exactly what the Suns deep stagnant forward line missed, and over the coming years, she may be able to be used as a “Pagan Paddock” type forward, where her pace will be hard to match as she can go to work on the ground ball. Time will tell.

 

QUICK TAKES

Kalinda Howarth looks to be set as a wing now. Her defensive workrate was outstanding, however, the Suns will need to bolster their forward flanks if they intend on using the mercurial utility outside attacking 50.

The forward pairing of Aine Tighe and Gemma Houghton has the potential to cause any defensive unit fits, HOWEVER, they must continue to attack the corridor, as accuracy will be a factor.\

Shannon Darkert was good in patches for Gold Coast, she showed really good awareness to lift her hands to evade pinning tackles, getting the ball out.

Airlie Runnalls continued to show she has what it takes to make it in this league. She was very solid in the first half.

Gabby O’Sullivan put in a big amount of work in the midfield and wing for Fremantle, her capacity will be much needed against the power runners that many of the finals contenders possess.

In terms of tackling.. The AFLW umpires really need to stop rewarding tacklers that drag the ball back in under the player’s body, it got called quite a few times in this game. I believe physical pressure will be a massive factor in the final series, and Fremantle were able to release the ball out from a lot of Suns tackles.

You could see that the Suns midfield were up for a fight, and attacked the contest head-on, however, I think they may have gone at the contest too aggressively at times, the Dockers were able to capitalise on Gold Coast trying to win the ball at all costs, by using a bit more of a tactical approach, ready to pounce on a Sun that went to ground to retrieve the ball. No less than six times were the Suns penalised for diving on the ball, unable to link a possession out.

 

 

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